7 Scientific Ways to Promote Sharing on Facebook

Leonardo Da Vinci once wrote, “simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” Kelly Johnson modernized that philosophy with an alternate twist, KISS, Keep it Simple, Stupid a.k.a. Keep it Short and Simple.

In a social economy where attention is a precious commodity, the ability to strip a social object down to its essence to capture attention has less to do with compacting character counts and more to do with the art and science of packaging and presenting content so that it is immediately compelling, simple to grasp and appreciate and in turn, share across social graphs.

For participants in the socialization of media, an ever-thinning attention span is forcing the rapid evolution of our ability to multitask – albeit at shallow depths.  Cognition is thereby stimulated by relevance, simplicity, and in social networks, the objects and content screened and shared by peers.

In Twitter, we learned that there is indeed an art to ReTweets and to increase the likelihood for tweets to spread, the words and times we choose dictate their lifespan and ultimately, fate. To examine social objects and how they affect sharing in Facebook, I once again reached out to my friend and social scientist, Dan Zarrella.

Zarrella studied Facebook data for quite some time and observed that simplicity, among other interesting linguistic and timed attributes, is the key to triggering word of mouth.

Readability’s Effects on Sharing in Facebook

With a view from the top, we can see that Facebook sharing is enhanced by simple language and thus modernizes the old adage KISS to now represent Keep it Simple and “Shareable.”

In his research, Zarrella examined article titles and matched the propensity for sharing with reading grade levels. The results were revealing to say the least. Essentially, the higher the share rates, the lower the reading grade level, with notable spikes resonating at fifth and ninth grades.

Numerical Value

For those looking to capitalize on propagating your content in Facebook, although the same could be true in other online mediums, consider the addition of digits to your titles.

Yes, there’s a reason why we as content consumers, are duped into reading and distributing social objects with numerical digits in the headline. For example, the title of this article is intentional “7 Scientific Ways to Promote Sharing on Facebook.“  Social science now shows that there’s a reason why articles with similar titles consistently perform well.

In Facebook, titles with digits (1-9) outperform text only titles. As much as I’d like to see more originality in and creativity in the school of compelling headline writing, the numbers add up to make a strong case for considering alternatives.

Carpe Diem

Similar to Twitter, there are days and times where we as content consumers transform into curators by sharing relevant content objects.

Whereas on Twitter, RT’s occur most often on Monday and Friday, Facebook users seem most likely to share on Saturdays and Sundays. It’s important to note here that while sharing is notably higher on the weekend, the volume of URLs introduced into Facebook are higher during weekdays, most notably Wednesdays and Fridays.  However, as Zarrella observed, stories published on the weekends tended to be shared on Facebook on average, more than those published during the week. This could be due in part to the fact that more than half of businesses in the U.S. block Facebook and other social networks in the workplace. But then again, if this were true, the science of retweets would also prove otherwise.

Personally, I’ve experimented with this over the last couple of years. Indeed, content introduced on Twitter, tends to spark greater reactions during the week, with Monday and Wednesday and Friday in particular. However, when I withhold the same object and introduce it to my social graph in Facebook on Saturday morning, responses are far more notable.

What Are Words For, When No One Listens Anymore

The act of sharing implies so much more than curation. When we “Like” or share content in Facebook, we are essentially endorsing it and as such, recommending it to friends and followers to act and react.

The words we intentionally or unintentionally surround the objects we share result in either relevance or irrelevance.

While current events play a role defining the most shareable content, truly, experiential words such as “why,” “most,” “world,” and “how” trigger the greatest volume of shares in aggregate. However, when viewing the activity of words in isolation of sharing events, “you” and “video” prove extremely noteworthy.

When words aren’t working for you, they’re working against you. As documented, certain words serve as inhibitors to sharing, closing the attention aperture before content has an opportunity to breathe. According to Zarrella’s research, the least shareable words include expressions I would not have otherwise guessed, including “review,” “poll,” and “social.” Among the least shareable words however, the following terms are introduced with greater frequency, however do not engender the desired outcome, “time,” “Twitter,” and “live.”

Action Speaks Louder Than Words

Part-of-speech also lends to the shareability of social object. Much like Tweets or any other update in the “statusphere,” brevity serves as a framework for what we introduce into the stream.

Seems that we have proof that actions speak louder than words, or at the very least, verbs as action words appear to motivate sharing with important nouns following in second. As to be expected, there are a greater number of nouns introduced into updates, however, it is verbs that imply action and therefore the right verbs compel us to share. Adjectives and adverbs appear to be among the least shared parts-of-speech in Facebook as our attention spans are trained to look beyond promotion or hyperbole.

The Glass is Half Full

The effect of linguistic content and the tone of updates and objects introduced in Facebook say everything about you. At the same time, determine whether someone reads, ignores, and more importantly, shares what they encounter.

Negative updates are among the least shared objects with positive sentiment and words sitting on the opposite end, prove to be among the most shared. It’s interesting to note that a greater number of negative updates are introduced into NewsFeeds than those that are positive. I suppose it’s to be expected, but sex is at the very top of the list and also among the least often introduced into social feeds. I’m also pleasantly surprised and encouraged to see learning, media, work and constructive in the company of shareable linguistic performers.

There are times where the content we introduce into the activity feeds of those in our social graph is intended to inspire sharing across the graphs of friends and friends of friends. Consider the science and then craft the update to employ it to your benefit – and hopefully the benefit of others.

Antione de Saint Exupéry observed, “Perfection is reached not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”

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Brian Solis is a digital analyst, anthropologist, and also a futurist. In his work at Altimeter Group, Solis studies the effects of disruptive technology on business and society. He is an avid keynote speaker and award-winning author who is globally recognized as one of the most prominent thought leaders in digital transformation.

His most recent book, What's the Future of Business: Changing the Way Businesses Create Experiences (WTF), explores the landscape of connected consumerism and how business and customer relationships unfold in four distinct moments of truth. His previous book, The End of Business as Usual, explores the emergence of Generation-C, a new generation of customers and employees and how businesses must adapt to reach them. In 2009, Solis released Engage, which is regarded as the industry reference guide for businesses to market, sell and service in the social web.

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